The Chuck Box: The Hearth of the Campsite
The chuck wagon was the engine that fueled successful cattle drives throughout the wild and wooly west. It was the gathering place after a long day of work, the source of comfort from the aches and pains of the drive, and it was rest. Your chuck box is the difference between an awesome campout and “that one time when…” Just as the kitchen is the hub of the home, the campfire and the chuck box are the hearth of your campsite.
Camping comes down to one thing… THE FOOD!
Nothing will cause an uprising faster than an empty or unsatisfied stomach. The way to a mans heart is never truer than when you’re sleeping outdoors. Camp cooking is special, its an art and a tradition. It puts us in touch with our primitive roots, cooking over the fire (or propane powered Coleman stove for most of us). Lets face it though, good food is hard to find, make, or prepare when your kitchen is based at the end of a picnic table.
Your chuck box is the essentials of your kitchen, yes even your sink, if you pack it properly and thoughtfully. Duel function, no fear, and nothing nice! My chuck box is my prized camping possession (next to my tent and sleeping bags). In a disaster situation its on my grab and go list! It is my lifeline to survival and civilization.
If you’re a camper or thinking of camping this is an essential part of your equipment and should be cared for like a 66 Mustang!
Thinking inside the BOX
First start with a 17-20 gal tub, the sturdier the better! This will hold all your stuff, but it will also double as a bathtub if ever needed.
Now you’ll do your shopping in your current kitchen or a thrift store. You don’t need the nice stuff and there’s a good chance you might have some of this in or near an open flame. Another great place to find supplies for your chuck box is the dollar store.
Here’s a list of basic supplies and its uses (plan on being surprised):
- 4qt Pot – this is for cooking, water purification, doing dishes, and heating bath water, hence why you want a larger pot. I recommend a smaller water bath canning pot.
- Backpacking nesting pots – these will work for a lot of your cooking
- Wooden spoon
- A cutting knife with cover/sheath
- Cutting board (thin plastic kind)
- Empty large whip cream container (or similar size) with lid – this is your mixing bowl and the cover is to keep bugs and stuff out while cooking
- Matches and/or lighter
- Fire starters
- A Paper weight (for windy days)
- Tinfoil (a camp cook’s best friend)
- Paper towels
- Diaper wipes or Clorox wipes (or make your own)
- Cooking spray
- Coffee pot
- Hand operated can opener
- Plates, cups, bowls, and silverware – you can use cheap dishes and do more dishes or go paper and burn it all, it’s your choice. Keeping a stock of paper goods takes about as much space as the plastic reusable variety.
- Dish soap in little container
- Washcloth or sponge
- 2-3 Dish towels
- Tablecloth clips
- 2-3 Hot pads
- Long BBQ style metal tongs
- Collapsible roasting sticks
- Sandwich and gallon bags – this is your Tupperware
- Trash bags
- Salt and pepper
- Any other preferred seasonings (sugar, cinnamon, season salt, etc)
- Little packages of favorite condiments (stock pile as you go to fast food restaurants)
Since you never know what’s going to happen I always recommend packing a few long term food items in your chuck box along with a few essentials. This also makes it emergency ready. Here are my recommendations:
- A box of hot cocoa or cider mix
- A box of instant oatmeal
- A box granola bars
- Jar of honey
- Jar of peanut butter
- A freeze dried soup or meal(s)
- S’mores supplies
- Jiffy pop (if you’ve never done one it’s a must!)
Expands with heat
As you get more comfortable with campfire cooking and your propane stove you’ll find that your chuck box will expand. Other items may include dutch ovens, camping popcorn popper, canning jars, or charcoal. Anything that works for a BBQ Grill will work for your campfire grill. This is just the tip of the iceberg for beginning campers. I promise you’ll love the challenge of cooking outdoors, and the food even more.
A Word on Menu Planning
Here are some simple rules that will make your life easier when cooking and camping
- Bring only enough to eat in one sitting
- Keep it simple
- Plan around freshness and your ice’s lifespan
- Buy for convenience – shredded cheese if you need it, real bacon bits, etc
- Be specific and precise in your plans
- Plan a no cook/ready to eat meal or two in case of rain
- Avoid frozen foods
- Precook everything if possible
- Make and keep your favorite recipes in your chuck box
Example Menu from my own family
Dinner – hot dogs, chips, veggies, s’mores (its tradition)
Breakfast – eggs, bacon, bread or cereal
Lunch – sandwiches
Dinner – fish wrapped in bacon, corn on the cob, baked potatoes, all can be wrapped in tinfoil and cooked in the coals or over the fire.
Breakfast – eggs, bacon, bread or oatmeal
Lunch – sandwiches
Dinner – frito pie (can of chili, bag of fritos, shredded cheese, eat from the bag)
Breakfast – whatever is left over from earlier
Go on! You can do it.. camping is the ultimate preparedness exercise. Tell us your favorite chuck box supplies.